LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT: Competition or Complimentary?

LoRaWAN® vs NB-IoT; both have been growing in the IoT space. With new devices and services being released for each of them. The use cases are growing, but what does this mean going forward; will we need both or will one dominate the other in the market? Read on to find out more about our thoughts around this.

How does NB-IoT work?

NB-IoT Key Features. Source: U-Blox
NB-IoT Key Features. Source: U-Blox

Let’s discuss a bit about how each of these technologies work. Starting with NB-IoT, these devices work on a licensed frequency band with a standard developed by 3GPP, the people that make all the mobile telecommunications standards.

To get a device online and to begin sending data you’re going to need a sim for NB-IoT devices. Vodafone are currently the only NB-IoT connectivity provider in the UK.

You’ve now got your device and a SIM card, you just stick your SIM card in, and it works, right? Well, not quite. Before you get ahead of yourself, you are going to need to forward and decode that data. Without the relevant skills and time this can complex. Thanks to Symbius, our own in-house developed IoT middleware platform, we can simplify this process for you.

With Symbius you can forward your data to decode it and view it in one simple to use web application. It’s not necessarily an in-depth dashboard or meant for data storage, but with access to an API you can forward your decoded data. We even have a Node-Red Node to make getting your data just that bit easier.

The key components for getting started with NB-IoT are:

  • SIM card (one per device)
  • Your chosen sensor(s)
  • Set up forwarding to wherever you plan to decode your data and display it (like Symbius!)

All of which can be provided by us, and yes we can even help you get everything set up and give you technical support.

What about LoRaWAN®?

LoRaWAN network architecture. Source: Semtech
LoRaWAN network architecture. Source: Semtech

Moving onto LoRaWAN®, this is an unlicensed radio spectrum, that means it is cheaper but more likely to deal with interference (although LoRa is very good at dealing with interference). With LoRaWAN®, you also don’t have to worry about whether coverage is available in your area.The architecture that you’re going to be using for this is also specified by the LoRa Alliance who have plenty of resources and information on all things Lora.

To get your device up and running you are going to have some higher upfront costs than your NB-IoT counterpart. Starting off you need your device, no sim required, then you need a gateway. Think of the gateway as your internet router but with a much lower frequency and a much greater range. Depending on placement and the gateway you could get a range of up to 10km! The gateway will only have LoRaWAN® devices connected to it meaning it shouldn’t have any interference from other connected devices. At this point you’ve already bought an extra piece of hardware, and depending on what sort of gateway you’ve bought, and how it is set up, you will need to forward your payloads to a LoRaWAN® network server (LNS).

Now you have your devices connected to your gateway which is forwarding data to your LNS, but it’s likely your LNS isn’t decoding your data, so you are just seeing raw payloads. To make sense of this, you will have to forward the data again to be decoded to your chosen platform or dashboard.

LoRaWAN® has no shortage of different LNS’ and dashboards to choose from. If you are looking to do as little development as possible, from Kerlink’s Wanesy to LORIOT, and dashboards from Novacene to Kheiron, you have plenty of choice and support at every step.

If you are looking to go super cheap you can use The Things Networks (TTN) LNS for free, though you will probably find yourself looking for a bit more from your LNS the more you delve into LoRaWAN®.

To sum up, to get started with LoRaWAN®, you will need:

  • A LoRaWAN® gateway
  • Your selected devices
  • A LoRaWAN® Network Server (LNS)
  • A dashboard to visualise the recorded data

Once this is set up, you will have a network which can be scaled with ease. This is great if you plan to grow your solution, but would be overkill for connecting a single device. To make it even easier, we offer a one-stop shop enabling you to source all of the key components. We supply everything you need to get started and offer a range of services to support you both pre and post deployment. We can even provision your devices so they are ready to plug & play when they arrive on site. Get in touch to discuss your requirements today.

LoRaWAN® vs NB-IoT; Other Differences

So, we’ve discussed setting up an NB-IoT device and a LoRaWAN® device, and I am sure you are already seeing the differences. Let’s go a bit further, we mentioned that NB-IoT is at the mercy of your sims network provider, this can mean you get great, unrestricted coverage without the worry of gateways. That said, if you are unfortunate enough to get bad mobile signal on your device, there isn’t a lot you can do.

LoRaWAN® however, you can do something, for a relatively low cost you can just put up an extra gateway, add it to your network and now you can have even better coverage. As mentioned it’s not a small range these gateways cover.

Also, depending on the frequency of uplinks and the device type, LoRaWAN® devices generally have a slightly better battery life. Both technologies, offer battery lives of 10+ years which is far beyond their competitors.

If you are planning to put a single sensor down or lots of device all over the country and NB-IoT has a device for it, it would make a lot more sense to use NB-IoT.

If you were to try use LoRaWAN® for something like that you’d have to place gateways everywhere you have a sensor making your initial costs much higher. Plus, if it is somewhere without ethernet you’d have to get a sim for your gateway adding an additional recurring cost to your solution.

NB-IoT really does beat LoRaWAN® for individual placements, as long as it has coverage.

LoRaWAN®, however, is meant for those clusters of devices where it would make little sense to use NB-IoT. My advice; If you have to put 50 devices in an apartment block, save yourself the recurring SIM charges and get yourself a gateway.

LoRaWAN - NB-IoT Compaison. Source: ubidots
LoRaWAN – NB-IoT comparison. Source: ubidots

LoRaWAN® vs NB-IoT: The Verdict

NB-IoT and LoRaWAN both have advantages and disadvantages over each other, with LoRaWAN being better for clusters of devices. LoRaWAN® has an easily expandable network, with more services and devices available (for now).

NB-IoT, on the other hand offers a fantastic option for sporadic placements, with less hardware required and no need to maintain your own network.

To answer the question of, will one replace the other? No, I don’t think so. There are plenty of use cases where one is better than the other and these technologies will both grow and complement each other’s weaknesses.

We work with many clients to develop their solutions, contact us today to discuss your project and the best technology to deliver the data you require.